Employees don’t have survey fatigue – they are tired of being ignored

An employee survey can offer fantastic insight into the highs and lows of working for your company, and how employees perceive and understand your business culture. These survey responses can allow mangers and leaders to make proactive and positive changes to the business, improve employee engagement and ultimately increase business success. However, research tells us response rates can be as low as five percent.

‘Survey fatigue’ is often cited as the problem. It is a term that we often hear, regardless of the industry. When seeking baseline data, if a survey or questionnaire is touted as an option, often it will be rebuffed with the phrase ‘we don’t want our employees getting survey fatigue’. So how problematic is survey fatigue, and how can we best avoid it?

Firstly, let me be clear. Your employees don’t have survey fatigue, they are simply tired of screaming into a void. Whilst leaders see the background work generated by an employee engagement survey, we must remember from an employee perspective, they complete a survey and…nothing happens. They don’t see the committees and task groups you have set up in your management teams in order to tackle the issues raised, especially in a larger company. Often the results of a survey may take 3-6 months to filter back to every employee, if indeed they do at all.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]People are simply tired of screaming into a void[/perfectpullquote]

This means from an employee perspective they offer their opinion and put time and energy into completing the survey and then nothing happens. They are fatigued by the lack of response, not the survey itself. Moreover, employees don’t wait until the survey comes around in order to share their opinions.  They will have been airing their suggestions and potential grievances to their manager and to their peers, possibly for some time, which can make being issued an employee survey particularly grating. Employees feel they have already shared their opinions and they have been ignored, so why would they now put them in writing?

We all have that friend who constantly asks for advice but never takes it. Instead, every phone call or conversation you have with them comes back to their situation and how they are feeling about it, and no matter what you suggest, it appears to be ignored. Next time they ring you, how enthusiastic are you feeling about taking their call? This is how your employees feel about completing another survey. You don’t have telephone fatigue, they don’t have survey fatigue, you are all simply fed up of not being listened to.

It is this fatigue that causes problems because we need employee feedback. A well-designed survey reveals employees perceptions, engagement, attitude and predicted future successes. This data is especially essential in the world of wellbeing, where existing data sources such as sickness absence can be inconsistent and incomplete, or unhelpfully vague due to data privacy laws. Following the huge shifts we have seen in companies through our reactions to Covid, we have never needed employee feedback and high levels of engagement more. So how do we access employee opinion without aggravating our exasperated employees further?

  1. Be completely transparent about the process. Explain why you are gathering the data, what it will be used for, when results are expected, how they will be shared with the business and, most importantly, what you will do with the data.
  2. Remember your employees need to understand the timeline and progress you are making against your data collection plan so regularly update and share this with them.
  3. Be responsive. Especially if asking employees about their wellbeing and current workplace experiences. I genuinely believe if you have no interest in responding to your employees’ feedback, then you shouldn’t ask for it. If you ask and do nothing then you are sending a clear signal that you do not care about your employees, or their workplace experiences. If you cannot act on feedback due to resource or time constraints, then be very clear why you still want the data and how you will use it to plan for the future.
  4. Know why you are asking. Don’t issue surveys for the sake of it, or because you think it’s what you should be doing. Ask questions you are genuinely interested in knowing the answers to and on areas you can proactively influence.
  5. Reward your employees for taking part. I have seen managers offer everything from chocolate to gift vouchers as payment for completing a survey. However the greatest reward you can offer employees is to demonstrate that their opinions are valued and will be taken seriously.

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